2014: Florida in the Fall Is Fine: Trip Summary

Total Miles: 8,825

Nights: 64

Average Camping Fee: $35. The splurge on the President's Campground in ABQ, and a number of cancelled (or double-booked) sites because of Mom's fall raised the average. And only 1 free spot at Nancy's house before the Balloon Fiesta.

Average MPG (overall): 14.86   We really hot-footed it home. If we had maintained our leisurely outbound pace, it'd be more like 16.

Maintenance Issues: 90k service in Sarasota, FL; nothing awry. Meandered all the way across country with a nail in one of the rear duallies. Other than refilling it with air a lot, it caused us no trouble.

Trip Theme: Backer's Tour. We visited places and people that we have supported, in one way or another, through the years: Santa Fe Film Festival to see the documentary film Pie Town (Kickstarter), Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary, Bullock Photography Exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta, and, of course, Julie's parents.

Weather: Surprisingly excellent weather almost the entire trip. Exceptions: wind storm in ABQ cancelled both the Glowdeo and the Mass Ascension; a very soggy day in Hot Springs, Arkansas; and another rainy day in Orlando, FL. A distant thunderstorm in Datil Well didn't stop us from hiking. And one darn windy night in NW Arkansas was a problem since I foolishly parked underneath a hickory tree. Those noise of the nuts falling and then rolling around for days drove Bago crazy!


The crowds at the Balloon Fiesta--must be seen to be believed. 

The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, NM. 

Bago could NOT understand why he couldn't go swimming.

The rabidness of football fever in MS/AL/GA in the fall. 

The multiculturalness of Bentonville, Arkansas. 

 The beautiful architecture of Midtown Atlanta

The charming town of Greenwood, MS, with its Viking cooking store and scenery from "The Help."  Merry Mississippi, Y'all!

The Grotto in Cullman, Alabama. (More photos below.)

Paul Michael Company near Lake Chicot, Arkansas. A very surprisingly hip store in a very rural area. And dog friendly, to boot! When one of the sales ladies saw us walking the dog in the parking lot before we came in, she called out to us to bring him on in. As much as Bago dislikes shopping, we did, because it's good to wear out his brain with new experiences.

Waking up an enormous flock of gigantic buzzards at Myakka Springs SP. 

The amazing antiquing area around Round Top, TX--it'd be fun to go back in season.  So very cute--can't believe we have no photos. But we did drive 500 miles that day; we must've been road bleary.

Fall colors EVERYWHERE--Taos, Oklahoma, Arkansas mountains, Georgia mountains, etc., etc. 

NW Arkansas

NW Arkansas (I think)
  • Turquoise Room, La Posada Hotel, Winslow--we FINALLY got there and boy howdy was it worth it!

    Navajo taco!

  • Pie Town Cafe for green chile cheeseburgers and (blasphemy!) better pie than the Pie-O-Neer, which was closed the day we passed through.

Trails: Turquoise Trail in NM, Route 66 in AZ (again!) and OK (first time), Butterfield Stagecoach Trail in Arkansas, the Blues Trail in MS, and the Hallelujah Trail in Alabama.

Turquoise Trail Lunch Spot
Winslow, AZ

Cullen, Alabama

Campuses: Ole Miss in Oxford, MS; University of Georgia in Athens, GA. Bago helped the students with their mid-term stress.

Favorite Camping Spots: We stayed at a lot of repeats (Cattail Cove near Lake Havasu, Pinegrove in Flagstaff, Fool Hollow in Show Low, Datil Well, ABQ KOA in Bernalillo, Palo Duro SP, Gulpha Gorge in Hot Springs, Point Mallard in Decatur, Stagecoach in St. Augustine, Bill Frederick in Orlando, Lake End in Morgan City, Miller's Creek in Johnson City), but we sure found a few really great new spots:

  • Santa Fe Skies RV Park in Santa Fe. Eco- and dog-friendly, plus art-filled. And near an Enterprise Car Rental Office (necessary for navigating the tiny streets.)
  • Solar Powered RV Park
    The owner's father is quite the metal artist.
    Bago loved the doggie corral.

  • Monte Bello in Taos (near the brew pub!)
  • North Abutment COE, Lake Grenada, MS: One of the best campgrounds EVER. Tons of room, extremely well kept. Would love to go back and stay a while.

  • Noccalula Falls CG in Gadsen, AL. Great place off-season, but be aware that the park is next to an amusement park and zoo (poor tigers), which when open in the season, probably makes this place crazy-busy.

  • Indian Springs SP in GA

  • Sawnee CG outside of Atlanta. Another great place off season (no one around to watch Bago swim). 45 minutes or so into Atlanta, but just beautiful.

  • Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center SP in FL
  • Meaher SP right off I-10 AL. Reachable from St. Augustine on a full day--429 miles from Stagecoach RV Park. Just stay a couple of nights and see Margaret and Mobile area next time.
  • Kartchner Caverns SP in AZ. No wonder we can never get in here during the high season. What a well-maintained park. We didn't bother visiting the caverns, but the campground was really nice. We particularly liked the communal fire pits scattered around the loops.
  • Lost Dutchman SP in AZ. Scroll down for photos. What a stunning place.

Friends Visited: 
This trip was all about flexibility after the very beginning, really, so not too many scheduled visits.

  • Nancy in Albuquerque

  • Amy in Sarasota

  • Parents in Florida
  • Family in Louisiana (unscheduled but a very welcome last-minute Thanksgiving)

Bago's Swimming Holes/Dog Parks:

We could have bagged 3 more (Birmingham, Amelia Island, and the other Houston one), but we've done pretty well by checking out 4 from this magazine article
  1. Cosmo Dog Park, Gilbert, AZ  One of the best dog parks anywhere. Very thoughtfully fenced to separate swimming from non-swimming play areas, big dogs from small, people without dogs from people with. Beautiful park.

  2. Newtown Dream Dog Park, Johns Creek, GA  Nice, but kind of odd. An example of a park really built for people, not for dogs. The fake grass is kinda gross, even though they rinse it off with sprinklers all the time.
  3. Dog Wood Park, Jacksonville, FL A membership club right off I-95, but day passes were available. Pricey, but very good for Bago because there's really not many places for him to play--or swim, especially--in this part of Florida.

  4. Congressman Bill Archer Park, Houston, TX. Note to self: try the other Houston-area dog park mentioned in the article above. This one, while very spacious, did not have the swimming area fenced off, so you couldn't swim the dog, walk the trails to dry him off, and leave. Had to pass the unfenced dog-bone-shaped swimming hole on the way out. But they did have nice doggie showers next to the parking lot.
Very Brief Itinerary:

10/4: Departed for our regular Bakersfield overnight

Cattail Cove State Park: another regular stop. Very toasty!

Return visit to Pinegrove Campground at Lake Mary, Flagstaff, AZ. Love the cool mountain air.

Return visit to Fool Hollow Lake, Show Low, AZ and the town's nice dog park (although both times we've visited, there have been very badly behaved dogs there with clueless owners).

Return visit to Pie Town and 2 nights at Datil Well Campground for some weather-enhanced hiking. Also a mountain lion was spotted by the camp hosts in the campground. Made for a quick dog walk in the morning. And no more wifi :-( Oh well, what can you expect for $5 a night?

Albuquerque: Nancy visit + Balloon Fiesta! + Bernalillo/The Range

View from Nancy's house.

Green chile cheeseburger inside of sweet Navajo frybread. Amazing, actually.

The storm coming in to cancel the Glowdeo. Unenhanced photo.

View on day after Fiesta closed--a few balloons went up!

Bernalillo KOA Sunset

Taos: 3 nights at the Monte Bello RV Park (we probably should've stayed up in the mountains--great-looking state parks up there). Beautiful weather.

Sunset view from our campsite

Driving the Enchanted Circle Route

Just one gorgeous sunset after another

Nice trail near Taos

Never pass up a labyrinth

Santa Fe: 3 nights at the Skies RV Park and our first Enterprise experience. Loved it! Canyon Road, Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe Film Festival.

Ten Thousand Waves

Climbing up to Ten Thousand Waves

The reason we were there

Santa Fe Farmer's Market

Return visit to Palo Duro Canyon and Amarillo. Great butcher shop. Gorgeous sunrises! Terrible bugs!

Trucking across Oklahoma: Foss State Park and Keystone State Park, with a visit to Tulsa. Folks in Okla do not know how to put up signage for a detour or to a state park.

4 nights in/around Bentonville, AR at Prairie Creek COE, Rogers, AR, where getting level was a 30-minute adventure every day. Enjoyed some good fried chicken roadfood, but thwarted on visiting the War Eagle Mill because we couldn't figure out how to avoid the height-restricted access. Drove white-knuckle ride through Eureka Springs (no RV parking!), visited Thorncrown Chapel (beautiful!), Walmart  Museum (very briefly), the dog-friendly Museum Hotel, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Great dog park, too.

Fun activity at the museum--water tasting. Artesian water really is tastiest.

Museum Hotel--dog friendly to boot!

Tried to recreate two previous wonderful visits to Hot Springs, but thwarted by rain and very unlevel site. Abandoned 1 night's fee (donated it to some lucky next camper) and trucked south to the Delta. Just used the Hot Springs post office and water refilling station. Close call with low clearance bridge on the way to the newish dog park.

Enjoyed tooling south through beautiful country in Arkansas to Lake Chicot State Park, Arkansas Delta. The Paul Michael store was a real treat to wander through, but we got lost more than once coming/going in this area. Took a delightful tour of Lakeport Plantation.

Tooled through Mississippi, seeing Elvis' birthplace and eating catfish and hot tamales.

Then continued on through Mississippi (getting lost again!) to John W. Kyle State Park, Oxford, MS: strangest campground (no maps, hidden site numbers). Lucked into a 2-spot parallel parking spot (we couldn't fit in ANY of the parking lots) in the very tightly packed downtown. Had fabulous meat-and-3 lunch at the Ajax Diner on Courthouse Square. Great bookstores. Toured campus before big game weekend.

Revisited Point Mallard in Decatur, AL. Not quite the same second time around, but nice long trails and some dog swimming possible in the Tennessee River.

Tooled through rest of Alabama, seeing the Ave Maria Grotto and Hallelujah Trail. And stocked the freezer at Smith Farms. When Bago gets a compliment in Alabama, it sounds like this: "Nahce dahw-w[schwa]g.

Atlanta Area: Lisa did a great job navigating the hellacious traffic, while Julie located all the necessary services. We managed to score haircuts at a Family Cuts, while Julie stocked up at aTrader Joe's. Visited a great dog park, and saw the jaw-dropping exhibit on Wynn Bullock at the High Museum. Topped off with Matt's BBQ again. Still the best.

Scored parking right in front of the museum!

Part of an exhibit at the High--swings!

Heading south to Noah's Ark: Tried two different state park campgrounds in the area before/after Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary, which was a fabulous day. Here's what I posted on Facebook: 

So yesterday we had the extreme pleasure of touring and supporting the good work of Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. We toured with a docent and got to get fairly close to the rescued big cats, bears, wolves, et al. After our private tour, we were told we could walk the grounds with our leashed dog, but outside the 2nd fencing layer. So we did. OMG, we blew Bago's mind. At first, he was all predator boy, looking at the chickens, ducks,bunnies, squirrels that are allowed to roam free. His first little freak out was at the giant tortoise enclosure when it dawned on him that those huge rocks were animate. His next comeuppence was when the zebra-donkey hybrids made a beeline for him. Our brave boy Velcroed himself to mama's legs. Then we got to the big cats like Doc, here. Several tigers got VERY interested in Bago (one ran to the fence, which completely unnerved our boy), including Doc. The two younger wolves (who we were told generally hide when the public comes in and did when we were touring without Bago) came trotting up to check him out. The peacocks honked and the gibbons hooted and we had to hustle our generally unflappable boy outta there. He was so confused. You could see him switch back and forth from predator to prey for the 30 minutes we had him in there. I've never seen him look over his shoulder before, but you'd think he was in Jurassic Park! 

Gabby (or Doc?)

Shere Khan (Baloo was sleeping out of sight)

Then did a quick re-visit to Juliette, GA on the way south for some Friend Green Tomato homage again.

Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park: 2 nights. Learned a new camping trick. When 2 nights aren't available in the online reservation system, book 1 night two times. Can often get spots if willing to change sites. Great park! Strangest souvenir--Lisa bought a quilted "baked potato sleeve" from one of the cute crafting cabin-stores in the park.... Supposed to make microwaved potatoes fluffy. Hmm.

Two nights at Anastasia State Park--beautiful place, but eaten alive by bugs!

St. Augustine area: 5 nights at Stagecoach RV Park (plus 1 at the hospital) to visit my parents for my Dad's 92nd birthday. This was the beginning of the end for Mom. Learned we can bug out of a campground pretty darn quick in the middle of the night. Thank goodness I had Dad's car and Lisa could follow in the RV.

1 night return visit to Bill Fredrick County Park in Orlando. Skipped Harry Potter World--not enough time and terrible weather and not appropriate time, given Mom's circumstances. First experience with RV bias in a mall parking lot--a security guard chased us down and made us move really far away. Said he'd call a shuttle for us (it was very cold and about to storm), but he didn't. But we survived, got our needed cord at the Apple Store, and fled. Too much Christmas decoration for November anyway...

2 nights in Myakka River SP in Sarasota, FL. 1 day with rental car to get RV serviced. Tooled all over the area--we like the Gulf Coast very much.  Great visit with sorority sister, Amy. Go shuck yourself! 

Got "the call" from Dad and cancelled the manatee trip up the West Coast of FL (Manatee Springs SP, Three Rivers SP, Blackwater SP) and returned to St. Augustine for 6 more nights. Only stayed 5 nights though, as we were able to equip the house with adaptive furniture, meet with PT folks, orient my brother and his wife, and make them all some of Mom's Thanksgiving dressing before we hit the road.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, we hotfooted it west to try to pick up some of our reservations. Loved staying at Meaher State Park outside Mobile, AL, where the state park camp host cried in the thickest Southern accent, "You're Dew Drops" (Dew Drop Inn!) because we were just staying one night :-)

Powered through to NOLA for a 2-hour stop for lunch (muffaletta and beignets) the day before Thanksgiving. Note to self: Parking area in the old grocery store parking lot by the French Quarter RV Resort. Easy on/off I-10 and cheap: $3 x 2 spaces for 10 hours or $25 for 24 hours of dry camping. Then carried on to to Morgan City and a lovely spot at Lake End Park. Very nice Thanksgiving dinner with Lisa's sister and family.

500-mile drive to Miller's Creek in Johnson City (with wonderful stop in Round Top, TX and Royer's). We'd like to return here some day for antiquing--quite a place. Can't believe we don't have any photos, but we did buy a few nice things for the house.

Disappointing spot at Miller's Creek--just a gravel parking spot this time and not a grassy spot as before; we ended up just resting up and not going out to see Christmas lights because of the big days of driving ahead. But Bago, as always, liked the dog run.

Crossed TX to Ft. Stockton (with a scenic detours to South Llano River SP with BBQ). Glad we filled with diesel when we did; lots of stations were running out of fuel on this holiday weekend.

Then made it to our beloved New Mexico and two state parks: Leasburg Dam 

and City of Rocks

with a lovely stop in Silver City.  Couldn't make it to the Gila Cliff Walks because weather had washed them out again!

Plus some local NM brew:

One more time through Las Cruces and its great dog park:

On to Kartchner Caverns State Park (finally got a spot!) in Benson, AZ and a return visit to Tucson for Sonoran hot dogs. Just as yummy as first time.

Beautiful stay in Lost Dutchman State Park. Pulled in right at sunset and scored these lovely views. Nice hike in AM before heading north on US95 to Cattail Cove again.

Final night at Orange Grove RV Park (with a bag of oranges) and then home to an enormous stack of mail.

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